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Accountability & Democratic Renewal

Just the Facts: G8/G20 Billion-dollar boondoggle timeline

Posted on June 2, 2010

How could a $179 million budget for hosting a summit balloon to over $1 billion in six months?  This trip down memory lane shows how the Conservatives desperately clung to their plan of hosting the event in Minister Tony Clement’s riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka, even though it was an unsuitable location for the gathering of world leaders, until the last possible minute. 

Because of this delay, the government had no choice but to hold the event in Toronto and at enormous cost.  Even then, the Conservatives could have chosen to hold the event in Toronto’s Exhibition place, which would have been much easier to secure than the city’s financial district.

February, 2009:  The Conservative government announces a $50-million G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund to “create a lasting legacy for the Parry Sound–Muskoka area.”
September 25, 2009:  Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that the G8 will still take place in Huntsville, Ontario, in June.  Mr. Harper also said that Canada will host a G20 summit around the same time, also in the Muskoka region north of Toronto.  (The Canadian Press)

Regarding the addition of the G20, local MP Tony Clement said, “There may be some augmentations to the existing (G8) budget but I would argue they should be minor. After all, one of the advantages of holding both in Muskoka would be the cost advantages.” (Almaguin News)

September 30, 2009:  Tony Clement says he’ll be meeting with local area leadership over the next few weeks to discuss G8 and G20 preparation: “The eyes of the world will be on Muskoka, and mark my words, we will be ready for that.” (Simcoe Region)

October 7, 2009:  Questions begin to arise over whether the G20 can be held in Huntsville, although the government remains committed to holding it Muskoka.  When asked why the G20 announcement was initially made here with the mayor of Huntsville by his side, Tony Clement says: “A lot of this occurred very, very quickly. My first preference is Huntsville, quite frankly, because, again, we’ve done a lot of work in this town. So I’m hoping that word will come back that it is logistically feasible, that it makes sense from the needs of the summit to move it to Huntsville. That, to me, makes the most sense, but I am not at liberty to say that it is a done deal until I get the word from the Prime Minister’s Office.”  Mr. Clement did say that the Prime Minister made it clear that both events will be held in Muskoka. (Huntsville Forester)

October 23, 2009:  Tony Clement’s office confirms that the G20 Summit is still coming to Muskoka, despite rumours that the G20 had changed venues and would be held in Toronto.  Clement’s press secretary said the rumour of the venue change was just that — a rumour, adding: “If it’s a source, we would like to find out who it is and find out why they are saying that.” (The Muskoka Weekender)

October 29, 2009:  Minister John Baird tells the House of Commons that the plan is still to host the G8/G20 summit in Muskoka:  “Mr. Speaker, this government is very excited about hosting the G8 summit. We are even more excited to host the G20 summit. We are particularly excited about the opportunity to promote one of the most beautiful places on earth, Muskoka and Georgian Bay.” (Hansard)

November 18, 2009:  RCMP Commissioner William Elliot contradicts the Conservative government when he says that Ontario’s Huntsville is just too small to host the G20 summit, despite the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars to bring the area up to world standards, declaring that it would be “difficult if not impossible” to hold the G20 in Huntsville, whose premier hotel, the Deerhurst Resort, has just 400 rooms. (Canadian Press)

A spokesman for Tony Clement, however, said no decision has been made to move the G20 meeting from Muskoka, saying Ottawa has not given up on playing host to the summit in Ontario’s cottage country: “We are still examining the feasibility of hosting this in Muskoka… We’ve done the hotel room count and now it’s a matter of making sure we look at things like securing off the roadways.” (Canadian Press)

Minister Clement, emailing from Tel Aviv, said that he is still trying to host the event in his riding: “It’s just a question of whether it is realistic or not to fit every delegation into a confined space. I’m trying my hardest!” (Globe and Mail)

Reports begin to emerge that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is leading a push to relocate the summit to Toronto, but the final decision rests with Prime Minister Stephen Harper (CBC News).

November 19, 2009: The Prime Minister’s Office confirms that it is weighing options on the location of the G20 summit between Muskoka and Toronto.  Toronto’s Deputy Mayor, Joe Pantalone, touted Exhibition Place as the “obvious” location for the G20 meetings, with banquet facilities for 3,000 at the brand-new Allstream Centre, the city’s 40,000 hotel rooms a short shuttle ride away and the easily “cordoned off ” grounds and diverse population acting as a home “constituency” for the 20 heads of state and their entourages. (National Post). 

December 7, 2009:  While in South Korea, Prime Minister Harper changes course and announces that Toronto will host the G20 summit on June 26 and 27 – leaving little over six months to plan the summit.  He confirms that Huntsville will still host the smaller G8 summit several days before. (Canadian Press)

February 10, 2010:  Sources say that the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, next to the CN Tower, has been selected as the location of the G20 summit over locations outside downtown.  The federal government’s decision to hold the summit on the edge of Toronto’s financial district means that a large swath of downtown will be closed just as the city kicks off its largest tourist event, gay pride week, and sidelining baseball fans who had been keen to see the return of former Blue Jay and all-star pitcher Roy Halladay.

The government’s rationale for holding the event downtown is its desire to show off its financial district: “The whole point is to showcase Canada as an attractive place to do business and the way we regulate our banking sector,” said a spokesman for Prime Minister Harper. (Canadian Press)

February 12, 2010: After news emerges that the federal government went over the head of the City of Toronto in placing the G20 economic summit in the heart of the downtown core, the City of Toronto formally asks the federal government to relocate this summer’s G20 summit to prevent Canada’s biggest city from being “severely impacted” by the event.  Toronto had been urging Ottawa to locate the summit at Exhibition Place, a few kilometres outside the core, since a downtown meeting implies major disruptions for business and traffic, as well as numerous security challenges. (Canwest News Service)

March 4, 2010: Security costs are pegged at $179.4 million of the G8/G20 summit, according to the supplementary funding estimates table in Parliament.  The RCMP, which is co-ordinating the security effort, will receive the biggest chunk of the extraordinary funding, at $131.7 million. The Public Safety Department will receive $32.1 million, the Department of National Defence $11.7 million, and Industry Canada $2.7 million.  The budget breakdown confirms that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service will be involved, although the spy agency will receive only $597,000. (Canwest News Service)

March 18, 2010: According to documents obtained by the National Post, the RCMP will require 49,500 room-nights in Toronto hotels for officers to provide security for the G20 summit, reserving 5,500 rooms per night for nine nights overlapping the two-day summit.  The huge booking for the RCMP appears to dwarf the total of all hotel rooms needed for the G20 summit in Pittsburgh in September 2009. In Pittsburgh, the total number of room-nights booked was 26,000. (Canwest News Service)

April 7, 2010:  Media reports that 10,000 uniformed officers and 1,000 private security guards will provide security for the G8/G20 summit.  For the G8 Summit in Deerhurst, Ontario, the RCMP and OPP will require approximately 4,000 personnel, while the G20 Summit, the RCMP will require approximately 5,600 personnel.  These numbers exceed the estimated 6,000-police-officer presence at Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics. (The Globe and Mail)

April 25, 2010: Kevin Gaudet of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says that instead of spending millions the government should rein in the cost of these “lavish” events, particularly since the country is getting over a recession: “There’s crazy spending going on and we don’t need these events. How many times do we need to get politicians together to have champagne and caviar at the taxpayers’ expense?” (Canwest News Service)

May 25, 2010: The security tab for the G8/G20 summit mushrooms to $834 million, according to government estimates table in Parliament – $654.9 million more than had been predicted only 10 weeks earlier.  The RCMP will receive an additional $321.5 million, Public Safety will get $262.6 million and National Defence will receive $$63.1 million. (Canwest News Service)

May 26, 2010: The federal government confirms that they have budgeted $100 million more for security, in addition to the $834 million in its spending estimates, bringing the security tab to nearly $1 billion. (Canwest News Service)

May 27, 2010: Federal documents show that Ottawa plans to spend another $160 million for the G8/G20 summit, above the $933 million security price tag already made public this week, bringing total costs to $1.1 billion.  The security price tag did not include the cost of hospitality, infrastructure, food safety or extra staffing needed to handle pre-summit meetings. (Canadian Press)

May 30, 2010: Public Safety Minister Vic Toews estimates that total costs for the G8/G20 summit “will be more than the monies that have been presently allocated, up to about $930 million. Of course the total cost won’t be known until after the summits.”

In response to the growing public furor over the escalating G8/G20 cost, Minister Toews admits that the government’s decision not to use the army, which would have lowered costs dramatically, was influenced by political factors: “Canadians understand that in a democracy you have the police rather than the army in the streets. And so those are political decisions you make, but I think they’re very, from a perception point of view, very, very important.” (CTV Question Period)

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